Ginseng may be difficult to find in the woods, not because it is hard to identify, but because it is so scarce nowadays. Many people actually 'hunt' ginseng, which means they go out in search of the herb in order to sell it to dealers. If you are lucky enough, however, to find an area where wild ginseng still grows, the following is how you would identify it as ginseng.
If you live within the regions of Quebec to Minnesota, or anywhere between there as far south as Georgia and Oklahoma, you may be able to find yourself some ginseng. American ginseng is known to grown in the north eastern half of the U.S. If you are looking for ginseng on north or east facing slopes, make sure the area has well-drained soil that are especially rich in humus. If looking on a southwest facing slope, ginseng will grow in soils where there is a high content of sand or clay.
Even though it is capable of growing on southwest-facing slopes, your best bet to find ginseng is on a north-and-east-facing slope. It primarily grows in cool and shady hardwood forests. Ginseng is commonly confused with Spikenard, however there are certain characteristics that will help you to identify the differences.
Ginseng will have a different pattern with its leaflets. It has five that are jointed together that meet at one point. While Spikenard has five as well, they do not join at one point. Instead, three join at one point and two join at a point further down the stem.
Although you can grow your own ginseng, because of the nature of the herb, the best specimens are roots that are old and variously shaped. When grown, ginseng is often harvested too early. Try your luck in the woods before wasting the time growing a crop you won't be able to use anytime soon.